Follow TV Tropes


Power Incontinence / Literature

Go To

Power Incontinence in literature.

  • In Animorphs, after Rachel acquires a crocodile morph, she morphs involuntarily whenever she is feeling strong emotion. There are two reasons why this is a bad thing. The first is that houses are not built to support the weight of an adult African elephant. The second is that when you have a conspiracy of mind-controlling aliens whose only obstacles to taking over the world are the morph-capable "Andalite bandits", it is not a good idea to reveal that you can turn into animals. It turns out that Rachel is "allergic" to the crocodile morph, and once she expels it, she goes back to normal. Except for the fact that she is now standing next to a very confused crocodile...
  • Advertisement:
  • Orrec's problem in Gifts, the first in the Annals of the Western Shore. He has no idea when he's actually activated his Deadly Gaze, making him a danger to everyone around him. After destroying an entire hillside and thinking he destroyed his father too, he goes blindfold for everyone's protection. It turns out the real reason he can't tell when he's using his power is because he has no power. His father was just unmaking things from just behind him every time.
  • Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov's The Norby Chronicles: Despite having amazing abilities, Norby isn't always certain how to use them. In the first novel, he explains to Jeff that he knows how to travel in hyperspace, but doesn't know how to do it, much like you know how to raise your arm, but probably don't know how the message gets there from your brain, which muscles are pulling and which ones are relaxing, or how the bones shift with your ligaments.
  • In Fred Saberhagen's Books of Swords series:
    • Many of the powers granted by the Swords are like this. Sightblinder, for example, always disguises its wielder, from friend and foe alike. Soulcutter causes soul-crushing despair in everyone within its area of effect, including the wielder. Townsaver and Shieldbreaker both prevent their wielders from putting down either one, or from running away, once battle is joined; Dragonslicer seems to have a similar issue, although the circumstances under which it activates in the first place are much rarer. The Mindsword, when its blade is exposed but it is not wielded by anyone, generates waves of potentially harmful telepathic noise; the Mindsword, when wielded, also affects everyone within its radius, even those whom the wielder might prefer not to mentally enslave.
    • Another example from the same series is Prince Adrian. In Woundhealer's Story, it turns out that the reason he is blind, and apparently simple-minded, is that he is actually such a naturally powerful wizard that for the first several years of his life, he does not bother using his eyes at all, relying instead on his magical senses. He likewise does not bother trying to talk to anyone, because he has such powerful means of magical communication.
  • Advertisement:
  • Gloom Glimmer suffers from this in Brennus. Her Adaptive Ability tries to give her what it thinks she needs, constantly — such as clairvoyance for every odd thought, or a powerful sexual glamour when she wants to impress her new teammates. She takes special pills to rein it in.
  • Callahan's Crosstime Saloon features the Lucky Duck, who has improbable events happen around (and to) himself. He's a Fair Folk halfbreed, and he didn't get the half that allows him to control his powers. Fortunately for those around him, this luck, while extreme, tends to cancel itself out.
  • In the Chaos Gods series, Fallen Servants have a flesh-destroying "death touch" ability. While some Fallen Servants can control their power, the protagonist Ki cannot turn hers off.
  • In the prequel trilogy, his problem was that he couldn't figure out how to use his magical powers. But in The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the title character has the opposite problem: lashing out with increasingly ferocious discharges every time he's in pain (which, given that he is a character in a Stephen Donaldson novel, is All. The. Time.) Towards the end of the trilogy, he's in danger of destroying the entire fantasy world, which was of course Lord Foul's plan all along.
  • Circleverse:
    • Trisana Chandler was abandoned by her family due to the unnatural weather phenomena that tended to occur around her, which was caused by her magic getting away from her. Given her power tends to be linked to negative emotions, the situation only got worse with time.
    • Mages in general in the series have minor Harry Potter-style leakage until they learn to control it. The worst affected character is Zhegorz, a man who was assumed to be plain old insane for having visions and hearing voices and was locked up in a Bedlam House until he really did develop paranoid schizophrenia or something like it.
  • In Jeramey Kraatz's The Cloak Society, Alex's power causes him to see everything bluish, because of the energies he uses to perform telekinesis. He also breaks things in his dreams. Later Kirbie recommends mediation to the team because it helped control her Shapeshifting; Alex finds it helps.
  • In Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey, Wren's Psychic Powers act up the most when she is feeling overly emotional.
  • Due to a chemical accident, the title character in Confessions of Super-Mom has a warped right hand from which she can spray a mysterious fluid. Not only is she incapable of completely stopping it from dripping, she discovers during a sexual encounter that she... well, sprays at the moment of climax.
  • In Croak, Damning comes with unfortunate side effects. Like potentially damning your friends if you don't discharge the energy often enough.
  • In Dead West, some of the more powerful aristocrats are suffering from this. Most notable with the Porcelain Doctor; he keeps healing himself even when he doesn't need it, and thus his brain is always strained, causing a mean migraine. It is not so bad, since he also fixes those who are near/synchronised with him, like Gervas, but when the overflowing power is his pyrokinesis, he starts to constantly run a fever, and sadly, burning others several times.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • In Unseen Academicals, a side-story concerns the first Medusa to be employed by the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. The first gorgon policewoman works out just fine — until her sunglasses get knocked off and she inadvertently turns a few people into stone.
    • In Equal Rites, Eskarina's innate magical abilities tend to leak out when she's under emotional stress.
  • According to The Divine Comedy, those damned for heresy are gifted with vision of Earth's future. The catch is that they can only see the future and not the present or the past, meaning that when the Apocalypse comes and all souls enter Heaven or Hell, they will have knowledge of nothing but their torment.
  • Discussed in The Dresden Files, where just about all mortal wizards have difficulty using technology because their magic "leaks" out into the surrounding environment, generating a "Murphyonic field" (as one character describes it) that disrupts delicate electronics. Simply turning on a phone or computer in the presence of a wizard will cause it to go haywire, and if a wizard is powerful, emotional, or both, it can cause an entire building's worth of electronics to blow out.
    • We find out in Cold Days, this all applies only to mortal magic users, like Harry in the Dresdenverse. Sidhe are quite capable of slinging powerful magic and using high technology at the same time.
    • Queen Mab also spends an entire book at one point refusing, for the most part, to speak. All of her interaction with Harry is done through her servant Grimalkin, who speaks for her while she remains present but silent. It turns out that this is because her fury at the time over a hostile attack on her fortress ran so deep that her mere voice could prove lethal to mortals, and the one time she does address Harry in her own voice, after he names one of the perpetrators of that attack, it leaves him with a headache and blood coming from his ears.
  • When Colin wakes up after Dahak's "minor improvements" to his body in the first Empire from the Ashes book, he very nearly goes insane from the sensory overload and sensation of an alien presence in his mind. It takes some extended Training from Hell before Colin gets completely used to his new powers.
  • Les Enfants de Prométhée begins when Mathias, a young Pillar, loses control of the wind and crashes an airplane at the Academy. It gets worse when a Canceller gets a similar case of Power Incontinence and causes every Pillar in Primville to lose their power at the same time, causing Red Tuesday. And then it turns out that Prometheus is affected with Power Incontinence, and it becomes apparent that every Pillar is doomed to lose their power eventually.
  • Gazo Kovacs is a victim of this in the Evil Genius Trilogy: he possesses a powerful and seemingly uncontrollable stench that can knock out just about any human being within thirty paces, and has to wear a hazmat suit to stop it from harming those around him. However, by the third novel, he's managed to get his power under control through various forms of therapy, and is now capable of using it to save lives.
  • In The Eyes of Kid Midas, Kevin Midas gradually loses control of his Reality Warping powers, causing his subconscious thoughts to bleed into reality.
  • In The Fifth Season, this is part of why orogenes are feared and despised: they intuitively reach for their powers when they're threatened or distraught, which can cause earthquakes or freeze their surroundings solid. One character explains that the fight-or-flight instinct has no sense of magnitude or of how to respond appropriately to a threat, so learning restraint is a big part of orogenes' Training from Hell.
  • Rae, the main character of the series Fingerprints, can't control her Psychic Powers, and the sudden onslaught of other people's thoughts when her ability first manifests causes her to freak out in public and get committed to a mental institution for a year. She later starts putting wax on her fingers as a sort of makeshift Power Limiter. There's one other character who also can't turn off their psychic ability, but any difficulties they might have aren't directly addressed in the story.
  • In Stephen King's Firestarter, Charlie McGee's pyrokinetic power first arose when she was a infant, and more than once it nearly kills her and her parents; as she grows older, she does gain some control over it, but this doesn't stop the Government Conspiracy hunting her from fearing that she could become a Person of Mass Destruction unless she's given the appropriate training. It's also worth noting that while she gains the control necessary to avoid starting fires when she doesn't want to, it's very hard for her to stop once she does start one.
  • This is the cause of karma demons in From the New World. They lose subconscious control of their power, allowing it to warp their surroundings unabated, leading to very devastating results.
  • Many of the mutants in Gone have this. Sam accidentally burned his step-father's hand off. Bette made her hands glow and then couldn't get them to stop glowing. Hunter accidentally killed one of his friends when he becomes a human microwave. Astrid and Diana seem to "read" people by touching their hands, whether they want to or not. Duck accidentally sunk through the bottom of a swimming pool. Lana got lucky and healed herself and her wounded dog without realizing it. Orsay sees people's dreams whenever she's near a sleeping person, no matter who it is, which causes some Nightmare Fuel when she gets stuck in Drake's head. Jack has accidentally broken a lot of things. Bug spends most of his time invisible. Brianna gets sick and ends up coughing in Super Speed. A lot of the more powerful characters eventually learn to use their powers, but not all. It seems that control is one of the variables in the Random Power Ranking.
  • In the Halo novel Halo: The Fall of Reach, it's revealed that if a non-Spartan tries to utilize the MJOLNIR armor, they will literally break themselves due to their inability to control their new super-speed and super-strength.
  • Harry Potter
    • The title character's cursed scar that gives him insight into Voldemort's thoughts.
    • This is what usually happens to child wizards — they make strange things happen when they're angry or scared. This is evidenced by Harry removing the protective glass keeping a large python inside its cage at the zoo, which made Dudley tumble into said cage. Teenage wizards experience a magical growth spurt along with their physical growth spurt, and are especially likely to cause accidents during this time.
    • This was the reason why Ariana Dumbledore was locked up at home. After whatever-those-boys did to her she was unable to control her magic and was close to blowing up the house every other day.
  • Heralds of Valdemar:
    • In Brightly Burning, Lavan Firestorm's gift of Firestarting was provoked into action by bullies at the Merchant's School. He can't control it himself. His Companion and lifebond, Kalira, controls his power. When Kalira is killed in the final battle with Karse, Lavan has neither the means nor the desire to control his gift further. He incinerates the entire region, including the Karsite army, the surrounding forest and grounds, and himself.
    • This can be an issue for many Gifted until they are taught how to control themselves; in the Last Herald Mage trilogy, Vanyel Ashkevron needs to be removed from the city for everyone's safety after suddenly and traumatically developing his strong abilities, and in the Arrows trilogy Talia loses control of her mental powers even after she's supposedly been taught, because of some misunderstandings regarding her training.
  • Power Incontinence is the entire point of Hidden Talents by David Lubar, where six kids meet at a school for delinquents only to discover they have latent psychic powers that caused their apparent behavior problems. By the end of the first book, they all have better control over their powers except Lucky.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the Belcerebon people of Kakrafoon are cursed with the disease of uncontrollable telepathy. They seek relief from it by staging a Disaster Area concert.
  • Flinx, of Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series, has a strong empathic talent that turns itself on and off at seemingly random intervals. While the ability grows more sensitive and powerful over the years, it's still maddeningly unpredictable. In addition, when sorely provoked he sometimes erupts in uncontrolled telekinetic detonations, making him a Person of Mass Destruction.
  • Imagers in L.E. Modesitt's Imager Portfolio can sometimes use their Imagination-Based Superpower accidentally if they are daydreaming (or just regular dreaming, for that matter). For example, the hero discovers his imaging powers when he starts daydreaming about his master's (he was a journeyman painter at the time) Jerkass son blowing himself up by mixing oils wrongly. Next thing he knows: BOOM!!
    • This also prompts a specific rule that imagers cannot sleep in the same room as any other person, including spouses, because of the risk of killing someone by imaging in your sleep. (This only applies to literal sleep, not sex, as a fair number of imagers are married and have children.)
  • Journey to Chaos: The magic involved with Mia's hammer space is too great for her to control and so she needs the guild lobby to serve as her power limiter.
  • Ishtar from the Kadingir series has this problem when she falls through a dimensional portal and arrives in Ki. Her latent abilities awaken, and she suddenly can hear the thoughts of all the bizarre people she comes across... while being in the most crowded market in town. The constant and increasingly louder hurricane of words in a language she can't understand nearly drives her insane, but fortunately Galam steps in to help.
  • In the third book of the Knight and Rogue Series Michael has had magic long enough that his powers have adjusted to him and began to trigger on their own, though he's still capable to shutting them down once he notices he's using them.
  • In The Legends of Ethshar universe warlocks experience this with increasing severity as they develop their powers. Unlike other magical schools, warlocks rely simply on exerting their own will to bend reality; the source of their power does not require bargains, prayers, or rituals to obey them. However, with the passage of time they become increasingly attuned with their powers and so exercise them without conscious thought, often against their own will. This is a bad thing because the more a warlock uses their power, the more they become attuned to the whispers that accompany it. Unless killed naturally, warlocks are eventually drawn to the source of those whispers against their will; the Calling is one of the greatest concerns of their guild.
  • Lilith's Brood: Jodahs is the first human-Oankali hybrid to be born an "ooloi" and inherit the Oankali's full ability to control DNA and living tissue. For a while, he's stuck inflicting random mutations on himself and everything he touches, including the buildings of the Organic Technology village he lives in. His abilities stabilize once he finds mates.
  • Lonely Werewolf Girl
    • A mild case of this occurs with the fire demons tending to set things alight or shoot sparks when they get emotional.
    • Kalix also tends to lose control of her werewolf powers when she transforms, cue Unstoppable Rage.
  • In the Lord Darcy stories, prescience is one of the few Talents which has yet to be understood by magical science, and thus, is subject to this trope. Commander Lord Ashley from Too Many Magicians can see a few seconds into the future, but only intermittently when he's under stress.
  • In Melody and the Pier to Forever, Mathematicians who are untrained may experience power incontinence. In Book 1, Melody struggles to control the Aecxis of Rage and suffers explosions of unintentional or poorly directed aecxal power on multiple occasions.
  • In A Lee Martinez's Monster, the main character of the same name has hundreds of different superpowers, including flight, invulnerability, super-strength, laser-sight, and invisibility. Unfortunately, each one is tied to Monster's skin colour, which changes every day: at the beginning of the story, Monster's skin is blue, granting him invulnerability; the next day, it's purple, giving him the inability to smell anything. However, when he steals the Cosmic Keystone from Lotus close to the end of the story, he gains a temporarily measure of control over his power.
  • In the Paradox Trilogy, plasmex-based psychic powers are initially tied to the user's emotions. Plasmex users have to undergo training in order to separate their powers from their emotional state. Devi, having very little plasmex, never got such training; when she gains dangerous, corrupt plasmex powers from the Stoneclaw virus, the effects manifest uncontrollably whenever she gets angry.
  • Common in Octavia Butler's Patternmaster universe. "Latent" telepaths, in particular, are entirely unable to control their mind-reading abilities, which makes them miserable people in every sense of the word.
  • Ann Leckie's The Raven Tower: Whenever a Physical God makes a statement that is not currently true, its Reality Warping makes it be true, which can drain or even kill the god if it doesn't have enough power to make the change. The Raven is killed by overspending its power trying to kill a pair of gods that are many, many times older than he is.
  • Realm of the Elderlings: Thick, in the Tawny Man trilogy, is somewhat mentally handicapped, but incredibly strong in The Skill (a form of mental magic). He often has difficulty not broadcasting strong emotions to everyone within miles of him (and forcing them to feel an echo of what he does).
  • Renegades has a few examples.
    • Max's powers are always on, which is why he has to live in a containment chamber, with only the Nigh-Invulnerable Captain Chromium and doctors in hazmat suits being able to visit.
    • Many prodigious children have trouble controlling their powers when they're young. When Adrian's Art Initiates Life powers first manifested, he infested his house with squiggles convinced they were dinosaurs (and acting appropriately), and Nova's mother kept passing out when feeding her because of Nova's Forced Sleep ability acting up.
  • The Rise of Kyoshi: In a world where Elemental Powers are commonplace, most cultures are content to allow children to discover those powers at their own pace. The primary exception is the Fire Nation, which tests children for potential as soon as possible (often before they can walk), because they can't have random kids suddenly spewing fire everywhere.
  • In The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School and The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School, Harper and Dyall are outcasts because their uncontrollable powers have unpleasant effects on anyone around them. Dyall's power causes headaches, loss of concentration, and patches of amnesia; Harper "breathes in" the life-energy of others, and nearly killed her own mother as a baby. Amy, the protagonist, has a few incidents of her power activating unintentionally when she's stressed, but they tend to involve nothing more than a bit of embarrassment as her power is levitation.
  • In The Shadow Speaker, Dikeogu has the power of Shock and Awe, however until he learns to control it, it pretty much results in lightning randomly hitting him.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, the entire first section of the novel is dedicated to basic training, which among other things is intense training in the use of the Mobile Infantry's powered suits. It is stated outright that it is easy to dislocate a shoulder just learning to scratch your back.
  • In Super Powereds, a small percentage of people have super powers of some sort. However, only a quarter of those are able to control their abilities. Those who can are called Supers and can apply for a Hero license (which allows them to engage in vigilante justice and provides Hero Insurance). Those who can't are called Powereds and are looked down upon by both normal humans and Supers. While some Powereds only inconvenience themselves (e.g. a girl who levitates when excited or a guy who teleports randomly when sneezing), others can be dangerous to others (e.g. a guy who can accidentally cause a state-wide blackout or a guy who affects probabilities around him, which can either result in a lottery win or a boiler explosion). The main characters are former Powereds, who have been granted control over their abilities through an experimental procedure. It's later revealed that former Powereds tend to be more powerful than other Supers, and some speculate that the Powereds' inability to control their powers stems from the abilities being too powerful to handle without artificial means.
  • The Confessors in the Sword of Truth series have to keep conscious control of their power at all times to avoid unleashing it on anyone they touch. Among other things, they are unable to sleep with anyone they don't wish to Confess, as one tends to lose one's control in the throes of passion.
  • Ia of Theirs Not to Reason Why has huge precognitive powers, and anyone who touches her risks being pulled into them, with often traumatic results.
  • Henry, from The Time Traveler's Wife, has no control over his time-jumping ability, which complicates his life as one might imagine, and also leads to some Nightmare Fuel when his offspring inherit the ability - while still in the womb, with usually fatal results.
  • In the Towers Trilogy, magic is tied to emotion, and losing control can result in a release of power called "radiating". People with potent magic are trained from childhood to control their magic energy using breathing exercises. Xhea never received such training, as everyone believed she had no magic; when her dark magic finally awakens, her radiating turns her into a Walking Wasteland.
  • Iris from The Ultra Violets has a tendency to "rainbow" when nervous, causing her art beam superpowers to go wild and produce crazy patterns and rainbows at random, and her face to break out in random patterns like lilac flowers, lavender stripes, and violet polka dots.
  • In Void City, Eric has difficulty controlling some of his vampiric powers, such as his super-speed, which kicks in and out at random. It's a side effect of a spell Phillipus put on him to shield him from his sire's awareness; as the spell breaks down, Eric gains more control over his abilities.
  • Janie in Lisa McMann's Wake Trilogy (Wake, Fade, and Gone). Janie has the power to be in other people's dreams. The only problem is, she passes out in the real world and she can't control it. She actually almost gets in a car accident because she got sucked into the dream of a kid on a school bus and passes out and nearly hits the bus.
  • The Wheel of Time
    • Mat Cauthon is extremely lucky. Especially in totally random things-like dice. In fact, he wins so much that people frequently suspect him of cheating and he's forced to leave the scene quickly (sometimes, his luck is kind enough to make him lose to avoid this). Anything and anyone he comes across by random selection will turn out to be important, even when he would much rather avoid trouble.
    • Several character who can channel (most notably Rand) had trouble keeping a lid on their powers when they were learning the basics. And thanks to a nasty curse, males who learn how to channel end up getting power incontinence all over again since With Great Power Comes Great Insanity.
    • Aes Sedai can muffle their psychic link with their Warders, but the Warders apparently have no such ability and must rely on the Aes Sedai to do it for them. When Rand and Elayne finally have sex late in the series after several other people are bonded to them, they forget to muffle the bond, resulting in much embarrassment and a near ass-kicking by Birgitte, Elayne's other Warder. It's not so much they forget, they (or at least Elayne) DO muffle it at first but they were um... occupied after that and didn't maintain it.
  • A good number of the Aces and Jokers in Wild Cards have powers that are always on.
    • Digger Downs's ability to identify Aces or well-disguised Jokers by smell is always on. But so are most normal senses, and they aren't considered incontinent either.
    • The Amazing Bubbles' ability to absorb kinetic energy and store it as fat is always on. She can't control losing the weight when she fires the bubbles full of energy either.
    • Bloat's Wall, a surrounding mile-wide field of psychic energy that can only be passed by an intense act of will, and can't be shut off. As Bloat grows, the Wall expands (also against his will) until it reaches parts of the mainland, driving out residents.
    • Whenever Water Lily as exposed to highly ionized air, she made it "rain". Also whenever she's, um, excited.
  • Several examples in The Witchlands:
    • Safi's Truthwitchery is always on, whispering true or false whether she wants to know or not.
    • After Iseult Cleaves a Firewitch, she finds herself starting small fires with her mind whenever he temper flares up.
  • A number of characters in Worm suffer from this to one degree or another.
    • Canary has the ability to make people suggestible through her songs told her ex to "go fuck himself" without realizing she was affecting him. He did. Fatally.
    • Panacea accidentally brainwashed her foster sister into being in love with her.
    • Ash Beast is an African parahuman whose power constantly generates an everlasting explosion around him. While this doesn't hurt him directly, it does mean he's been reduced to wandering the African wilds with no human contact in years.
    • Taylor herself runs into this while incarcerated after surrendering to the PRT. She isn't allowed to use her power without permission, but even if she isn't directly commanding the bugs around her, she can still sense everything they're doing... which, she points out, is really gross when it comes to the pubic lice other prisoners in the jail suffer from.
    • The sequel, Ward, reveals something disturbing but also enlightening about parahumans: since the various superpowers are designed to cause conflict, they actively try to do so. Parahumans who use their powers in battle tend to have good control, but parahumans who try to find nonviolent uses, or who try to simply not use their power at all, find their power going more and more out of their control. This is one reason Amy's power is so unstable: she's been using it just to heal people, rather than, say, unleash biological superweapons that kill millions. Her power is actively sabotaging her control in order to cause conflict despite her own refusal to do so.
  • In the Zachary Nixon Johnson series, Natasha, antagonist of The Flaxen Femme Fatale, is a powerful psi who is unable to fully control her abilities. Whenever she gets upset, she tends to accidentally kill everyone around her.
  • In Zeroes, Anonymous and Crash are unable to control their powers. Anonymous is forgotten by everyone as soon as he's out of their sight, and Crash risks destroying any advanced technology in her vicinity.
  • In The Zombie Knight, after the already epic-level servant Field Marshal Jackson achieves emergence, he starts uncontrollably incinerating nearby objects. It trashes his headquarters and even kills one of his fellow Field Marshals, although the latter was only inconvenienced.
    • Mutation users will also be forcefully mutated by their power unless they use their ability regularly. Fortunately they can guide the mutation to some extent when it starts to happen.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: